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Bess Marvin leaned her cheek against the back of Paul Cody's warm fleece jacket and held him close, her arms snaking around his waist. She felt him lean to one side and moved with him instinctively as the motorcycle sped around a curve in the road. As they traveled to the top of a steep canyon in the state park near the Wilder University campus, they noticed that the road became narrower and rock walls jutted out at sharp angles to meet th
Paul reached down and gave Bess's arm a quick squeeze. She shivered slightly at the touch of her boyfriend's fingers. He always makes me feel amazing, Bess thought.
The motorcycle slowed as they reached the top of the canyon. Paul pulled into a tiny parking area and switched off the engine. After they took off their helmets, Paul turned to Bess.
"I love to ride on this thing!" he exclaimed.
"Me, too," Bess said as they climbed off the bike. She felt exhilarated. "I'm so glad we came here," she said, shaking out her long golden hair.
"As long as I'm with you, I don't really care where we are," Paul replied, pulling Bess close and pressing his lips against hers.
"I love you," she murmured, holding him tight.
With their arms around each other, they stared at the incredible sight before them. The parking area overlooked a river valley. A waterfall spilled over the rim of a gorge directly across the canyon and crashed into the deep river pool below. Mist rose and turned to icy flakes in the cool air before settling back into the water.
"This is awesome. Nancy and Jake were right about this being the most beautiful view in all of Weston," Bess said.
When Bess had told her friends Nancy Drew and Jake Collins that she and Paul were planning a day in the country, they'd told her about the state park and this place overlooking the water fall. Jake had once brought Nancy there for a romantic afternoon.
"This is great," Paul agreed. "But it's not the most beautiful sight in all of Weston."
"Oh, no?" Bess said softly. "And just what is?"
"You," he answered, staring into her light blue eyes.
Bess tilted her head so their lips could meet again. The taste of Paul's kisses and the warmth of being in his arms always made her heart pound.
She gently stroked Paul's left cheek. Bess noticed that it was as cold as her own. They had been out all day, and it was now late afternoon. With darkness approaching, the wind would feel even colder as they rode the motorcycle that they'd borrowed from Will Blackfeather, the boy friend of Bess's cousin, George Fayne.
"We should think about getting back. Will and George might want to use the bike tonight."
Paul frowned. "Let's stay a little longer. I'm sure they won't mind if we get back later than we said. They'll understand two people having such an amazing day that they forgot all about time," Paul said as he nuzzled her neck.
Bess laughed and playfully tried to twist away from him. "It has been incredible," she said as he pulled her against his chest. "Our picnic at the meadow and the ride up here . . ."
"I only have eyes" -- Paul kissed her ear -- "and lips for you."
"Oh, Paul," Bess replied, as his warm breath fanned her cheek. "This is so perfect. I wish it didn't have to end."
"I hear a but coming," Paul moaned.
"But," Bess said with a chuckle, checking her watch, "we really should go back to Wilder. It's getting colder, and -- "
"I know, I know," Paul interrupted. He wrapped his arms around her. "You have to rehearse the one-acts."
"The performance is this Saturday!" Bess cried. "That's only two nights away. And I did say I'd meet Casey and Brian so we could rehearse tonight," Bess added, thinking of the promise she'd made to her friends and fellow actors, Casey Fontaine and Brian Daglian.
"I can't believe you're going to a rehearsal and to the Alpha Delt party tonight," Paul replied. "You are still planning to come to my frat party, aren't you?"
"Sure," Bess said. "I've been looking forward to it."
"You've got to stop worrying about the one-acts," Paul said, rubbing Bess's shoulders. "You're going to do great. These are just last minute nerves. Besides, that acting coach already has her eye on you."
"I know," Bess replied. "But that just makes me more nervous. I really want to get into her class. Jeanne Glasseburg is going to be teaching here only next semester."
Bess knew that most of the invitations to the famous New York acting teacher's class would be extended to the upperclassmen in the theater department. But Glasseburg would also select a few drama students from the lower classes. She'd be at the opening-night performance of the one-act plays to see if there were any students in the production that she wanted in her class. That was why Bess's performance was so important -- she was dying to get chosen for the class.
Bess thought she'd blown any chance of getting in when Jeanne Glasseburg happened to see her doing a spoof of the one-acts. Bess was sure she'd made a total fool of herself, but the truth was that Jeanne Glasseburg had loved Bess's improvisation.
"Why would you be more nervous if she already thinks you're talented?" Paul asked.
"If she hadn't seen the spoof, she probably wouldn't even have noticed me, but now she may expect something really good from me. I don't want to disappoint her," Bess said softly.
"She's not going to be disappointed, Bess," Paul replied.
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because she's not wrong," Paul said, grinning as he hugged Bess closer to him. "If you admire her so much, Bess, how can you doubt her judgment? She sees talent in you, so trust her. And trust yourself."
"You really believe in me, don't you?" Bess said.
"Of course I do," Paul answered. "And I'm also completely in love with you. But don't think that makes me biased."
Bess shivered again, but this time it wasn't from nervousness. It was excitement -- and happiness. She couldn't believe how fantastic her relationship with Paul was. Today had been really special.
Between schoolwork and Bess's rehearsals, they hadn't had much time for each other lately. And during the upcoming school break, they were both going home to see their parents, so it would be a while before they could be together like this again. Bess sighed.
"I know," Paul whispered. "I wish we could stay here forever, too."
"When did you start reading my mind?" Bess asked.
"Oh, the first minute we met." Paul laughed.
Bess snuggled closer to him. "We do need to head back soon," she said softly.
"In a minute," Paul replied, leaning toward her. "I really do love you, Bess." He ran a thumb along her cheekbone.
"I love you, too, Paul." Bess looked up into his eyes. "With all my heart."
Paul's lips captured hers, and Bess felt as if they would be together forever.
"All right, let's hear it," Nancy finally burst out, laughing at the expression on Dawn Steiger's face. "You look as if you might die if you don't talk to somebody."
"Hey, guys, what are you doing?" Casey Fontaine said as she walked into the lounge of Suite 301 in Thayer Hall where Nancy and Dawn, the resident adviser, were sitting.
"I'm waiting for Jake to pick me up to go to the Alpha Delt party, and Dawn here" -- Nancy paused and pointedly turned to the beautiful blond girl sitting next to her on the couch -- "is waiting to explode with some secret she's bottled up."
"Oooh, give it up," Casey cried. "If you have a secret, you'd better tell."
"Okay, okay. But it's not a secret. It's just about Bill." Dawn grinned, her pretty face flushing.
Bill Graham was the R.A. on the men's second floor in Thayer. Nancy thought he was a great guy, with a terrific sense of humor.
"I really like him," Dawn said.
"That's helpful," Casey replied, rolling her eyes at Nancy. "You two have been dating for a while now."
"Well," Dawn admitted, "we've been friends more than anything else. That was my choice."
"No kidding," Nancy said. "He's been head over heels in love with you for a long time."
"I know," Dawn agreed. "But I didn't think I could handle another relationship after my breakup with Peter," she added.
"Until now?" Casey said gleefully. "Good. It's finally love."
Dawn laughed. "I think so. Only now that I've admitted to myself how I feel, I want to spend some time alone with him and talk about how my feelings for him have deepened. And I want to really show him, if you know what I mean." Dawn smiled and blushed slightly. Then her smile faded. "But there's no way I can do that right now."
"Why not?" Casey asked.
"We can't find any time to be alone lately." Dawn sighed.
"But exams are over," Nancy said. "You'll have the whole weekend."
"That's what I thought," Dawn admitted. "I was looking forward to that. But Bill just told me that an old high school friend of his, Zach something-or-other, is coming up to Wilder -- this weekend."
"Bad timing," Nancy murmured.
"I can't really be upset," Dawn said, "because Bill's so happy and excited about seeing Zach, who's been traveling around the world for the last year. Bill hasn't talked to him in ages."
Dawn sighed and absently pulled at a stray lock of blond hair. "Zach will arrive at Weston sometime tonight."
"They'll probably have lots to talk about," Nancy said.
"Which is okay." Dawn smiled. "I guess I'm looking forward to meeting such a good friend of Bill's."
Dawn looked at Nancy and Casey and frowned.
"But it means I have to wait a while before I get Bill all to myself.
"Oh, well," she said with a shrug, "I can't be selfish. I know he's really looking forward to Zach's visit."
"Sure he is," Casey agreed. "But I bet that on Monday, when you talk to him about your news, he won't remember who Zach is."
"It'll wipe every other thought from his mind," Nancy added.
"I hope," Dawn said softly. "I've always known what a wonderful guy Bill was. I've just been too afraid to let myself become vulnerable again."
Nancy knew exactly why Dawn was so nervous. The resident adviser had been really hurt and lost when her boyfriend, Peter, broke up with hot. She'd even gotten involved for a while with REACH, a cult that preyed on lonely students like Dawn, drawing them in with false promises of friendship and then taking their money. Bill was the first to notice the change in Dawn's behavior. And together with Nancy, he had helped Dawn see the truth about REACH.
"You two will make a great couple," Nancy said.
"And we always like more romance in the dorm," Casey added.
"Poor Casey." Nancy laughed. "As if there's no romance in your life since you said yes to that gorgeous fiancé of yours."
"Allow me to live vicariously," Casey said. "Charley's in Los Angeles, and I get to see him once a month -- if I'm lucky."
"It is wonderful to be falling in love again," Dawn admitted. "If only I get the chance to tell him soon."
Nancy didn't miss the impatience in Dawn's voice. It was great to see that Dawn was ready to listen to her heart and not just her head.
Nancy thought about her own fear of getting serious with another guy after breaking up with Ned Nickerson, her longtime boyfriend. But she'd followed her heart with Jake Collins, and she couldn't have been happier. Just thinking about him made her knees weak. The chemistry between them was electric.
Then, as if she'd summoned him, there was a knock on the suite door. When Nancy opened it, Jake stepped into the room. His brown hair was slightly tousled, making him look sexy, as usual. His eyes lit up when he saw Nancy. Jake started toward her, and Nancy knew he was going to take her in his arms.
In the distance she heard a phone ringing, and realized the sound was coming from her room.
"Is that your phone?" Jake asked, feigning anger. "It's mining my entrance." He sighed as he plopped himself on the couch next to Casey.
"Sorry." Nancy grinned, wrinkling her nose at Jake. "Let me grab it. It won't take a sec. I'll be right back," she promised. Nancy jogged to her room and snatched up the phone.
"Nancy? Is that you?"
Nancy recognized the voice of her Little Sister, Anna Pederson. Anna was twelve and lived in downtown Weston. Nancy had been matched up with Anna through Helping Hands, a Big Sister-Big Brother mentoring program on campus. Nancy usually spent a few hours a week with Anna, and they had a date to get together the next afternoon. But Nancy could hear how anxious Anna sounded on the phone.
"Anna?" Nancy asked worriedly. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Anna said quickly, sounding almost embarrassed. "I mean, yes. Nancy, I'm really worried about my dad."
"What is it?" Nancy asked, sitting down on her bed.
"Remember, I told you about my dad losing his job?" Anna said in a shaky voice. "Well, he went on another interview today, but he didn't get the job. He came home looking really mad."
"That's too bad," Nancy said. "But job-hunting is hard, and it can take a while to find a position. I'm sure he'll find one soon. Don't worry -- "
"I have to worry!" Anna suddenly cried. "You don't understand." She sounded as if she might start crying. "He . . . my dad . . . he used to drink," Anna admitted softly, her voice choking.
"After my mom died. He hasn't in a long time, but he's been so upset lately. And now he's gone out, and he wouldn't tell me where he was going." Anna paused and Nancy heard her sniffling. "I'm afraid he might have started drinking again.
"Have you seen him drinking since he lost his job?" Nancy asked, her voice full of concern.
"No," Anna admitted. "But I'm really worried."
"I know," Nancy said. "But if he's stayed sober so far, I'm sure he'll be okay. He probably just needs to be alone for a while."
"I don't know . . ." Anna's voice trailed off.
"Listen," Nancy said gently. "Don't think about it anymore. Try to get some sleep. I'm sure your father will be fine, and you and I can talk about it when I pick you up tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay," Anna said, taking a deep breath. "Two o'clock, right?" she asked anxiously.
"Two o'clock," Nancy agreed. "Now get some sleep."
Nancy hung up the phone and walked back to the lounge, wishing she could do something more for Anna.
But I guess my being here for her to talk to is a big help, Nancy realized. Who else would Anna have called?
When Nancy saw Jake, she pushed away her concerns about Anna. She'd be able to spend time with Anna tomorrow. All she wanted now was to feel Jake's arms around her.
"Everything okay?" Jake asked as he pulled Nancy close to him.
"You bet," Nancy said, resting her cheek on his chest. "Now that you're here. But you've got to get me out of this suite," she added, shooting a glance at Dawn and Casey. "All these two want to talk about is love, love, love. It's so boring, don't you agree?" Nancy asked, turning her gaze on Jake.
"Oh, is it?" Jake grinned down at her. She knew he wanted to kiss her, but wouldn't in front of Casey and Dawn. Not the way he obviously wanted to.
"Later," he whispered, as though he'd read her mind. "I'll prove just how boring it isn't I promise.
It was a promise Nancy was anxious to see fulfilled.
Bess hung on to Paul's waist as the motorcycle raced down the steep road. The bike picked up speed after they left the state park and entered the road leading back to Weston and the Wilder campus.
Bess and Paul had lingered by the waterfall longer than they should have. It was already dark when they climbed on the motorcycle for the long ride home. Bess knew they'd get back too late for her to rehearse with Casey and Brian, but she'd see them at the party and apologize there.
It was incredible, but knowing she'd missed an opportunity to rehearse didn't bother Bess. In fact, she wasn't feeling at all nervous now about her upcoming performance. Paul's supportive words had really made an impression on her.
Bess couldn't wait for Saturday night. Jeanne Glasseburg's class was within reach, and Bess was sure she would be chosen for it.
It felt so good to have a boyfriend who believed in her the way Paul did. This is what love is all about, Bess thought, hugging Paul tighter.
"I love you," Bess cried, leaning forward so her voice wouldn't be drowned out by the whine of the engine and the whistling air.
"What?" Paul yelled back.
Bess felt the question more than she actually heard it, as though the minute Paul spoke the word was already fifty feet behind them.
Bess shook her head and squeezed him to let him know it was nothing. She could tell him when they were back at Wilder, and she'd thank him again for making her feel so confident. Suddenly Bess had an incredible rush of feeling, and she knew, just knew, that she and Paul would be together for a long time. Maybe even -- Before Bess could finish the thought, she was blinded by a flash of light and automatically tightened her grip around Paul's waist.
She heard the sound of screeching tires, and then something hit the back of the motorcycle. The machine spun and skidded. Bess lost her hold on Paul, and she screamed as she flew off the motorcycle. The dark shadows of the trees flew past her sideways, and for a second Bess saw her own feet against the stars.
She'd lost Paul -- her hands were grasping air. Then all at once she hit the ground -- and every thing went black.